The Best of 2015 rolls on with the second part of my my “highlight reel” from the 40 Random Roles I did for the A.V. Club over the course of this past year. If you missed Part 1, then please feel free to pop on over to that piece via this link right here, but otherwise please enjoy this second installment of what will – at least as it stands right now – end up being a four-part saga.
I promise you, I’m not trying to drag this thing out, but what I am trying to do is make sure that I’m not delivering too many highlights at any given time. I know these Random Roles interviews can be pretty gargantuan, but hopefully each nugget I’ve excised from these 40 pieces will prove tasty enough to inspire you to check out the whole thing or maybe even read them again.
Having said that, let’s carry on, shall we?
Little Monsters (1989)—“Boy”
Born On The Fourth Of July (1989)—“Timmy”
The Doors (1991)—“Robby Krieger”
World Trade Center (2006)—“Chuck Sereika”
AVC: You’ve worked with Oliver Stone several times in your career, but it started with Born On The Fourth Of July. How did you find your way into his camp?
Frank Whaley: I remember that so clearly. They used to do casting in New York a lot for features. They don’t do that a lot anymore, especially for unknown people. Nowadays, that role would be played by somebody famous, somebody already established. They would never go with an unknown. It’s just the nature of the movies, because they make so few studio movies now, and all of those roles are so sought after. And that was a cool role! But I just went in there and he actually had me read for the role of Tom Cruise’s little brother first, which was played by Josh Evans in the film, who’s the son of Robert Evans and Ali McGraw and who kind of looks like Tom. So he ended up playing that role, but they said, “Take a look at this.” And they gave me the pages for the role of Timmy, and they said, “Go outside and come back in five minutes.” So I went outside and I quickly memorized it, and I came back in and I did it. And I got the call later that day that they wanted me to do this part.
Another funny thing about that, though, that’s kind of similar to the Pulp Fiction thing… About a week before that, I auditioned for a role in a movie called Little Monsters, with Howie Mandel and Fred Savage. [Laughs.] And it was to play a monster. And I got the part, so I committed to that, and that was filming in North Carolina. But then I got the part in Born On The Fourth Of July, and my agent said, “Uh, yeah, you’ve got to make a decision. What are you gonna do?”
It turned out that I somehow got to do both, but my big scene in Born On The Fourth Of July, with Tom Cruise and I sitting in the backyard talking… It was a big scene for both of us in the movie, but I got stuck in Carolina. And I had to be in Dallas the next day! I ended up getting the last flight out to Dallas, but I should’ve been on the set that morning, and it was my first day working on that movie. So we went in for rehearsal and… I didn’t know my lines! The opposite of what Sam Jackson did that day on Pulp Fiction. [Laughs.] I did the complete opposite. I was exhausted, and I didn’t prepare. The scene turned out great, and I love that scene, but first thing, man, I came in, and it was just the blocking rehearsal, just the two of us sitting in chairs, but… I had my sides, as they call them, in my hand. And Oliver Stone freaked out.
This is my first day with Oliver Stone on this set, sitting next to Tom Cruise, and we get about halfway through the scene. Oliver usually sits off the set—like, in a tent, with a monitor—and watches. And I just hear him say, “Cut! We’re cutting on the rehearsal!” And he stomps out, and he goes, “What the fuck are you doing?” And he knocks the sides out of my hand, and he says, “You don’t know these lines?” And he points at Tom Cruise, and he says, “He knows his lines! Why the fuck don’t you know your lines? I know why! Because you were on a plane last night, doing some piece of shit movie in Carolina when you’re supposed to be here, getting a fucking costume fitting!” He’s screaming at me!
And… I peed in my pants. I mean, I was so frightened that I lost control of my bladder. And I said—and this was the only thing I did right—was to respond correctly and kind of meekly and say, “You’re right. I’m sorry. Give me 10 minutes, and I will know the lines. I’m sorry for what I caused to you and to the crew…” [Laughs.] But it was the most mortifying moment of my life. Oliver said, “All right, get out of here and come back and know your shit!” and I was walking out, Tom Cruise kind of rubbed me on the shoulder and said, “Don’t worry about. It’s gonna be okay. You’ll be fine.” Which didn’t make me feel any better. In fact, it may have made me feel worse. But by an hour later, it was all forgotten, and fortunately I did a good job in that movie, because he brought me back to do The Doors, and then he brought me in for JFK, and then World Trade Center.
“Well, you know, Donnie Brasco… I guess if you wanted to pick my top five, that’d be in there. It was a pretty damned good film, and shooting in New York City wasn’t bad, either. When you play a character that’s someone real, when you’re playing a true story, it’s really great, ’cause you’re not pretending to make up some silly thing. I wanted to dignify it. I wanted to give it as much respect as it deserved.
“You know, speaking of auditioning for things, that’s a perfect example, because they asked me to come in and read for it, and I said, ‘No.’ And they said, ‘Well, then you’re not gonna get the part.’ I said, ‘Well, put it this way: If I come in and read, then I definitely won’t get it.’ And they’re, like, ‘Michael, you’re perfect for this.’ And I said, ‘Well, if I am, then why don’t you just give me a contract? Because I don’t understand what the whole reasoning is.’ For about two weeks, I didn’t hear from them. Finally they said, ‘Would you be willing to go to New York to meet Al Pacino?’ And I said, ‘Well, yeah, of course. But if you’re trying to bait me in there to go read, please, it’s not gonna happen. I’d love to say ‘hi’ to Al, and I understand he would probably like to meet me, considering the material, but I’m not gonna read for you guys. It’s not gonna happen.’
“So they put me on a plane, they put me up at the St. Regis, and I went to meet Al. It was like meeting some kind of diplomat. I mean, he had guys with earplugs in and bodyguards walking up one hallway and down the other. It was a very secretive trail to get to Al. And then when I finally got in his office, he was just standing with his back to me, looking out the window. I came in and I closed the door, and I was just kind of standing there. And he didn’t even really turn around! So there was a bookshelf, and I figured maybe he was deep in thought about something, so I turned around and pulled a book off the shelf and started looking at it… and all of a sudden I hear that voice. ‘You like that book?’ ‘What?’ He goes, ‘You like that book?’ And I’m, like, ‘Uh, well, uh…’ I hadn’t even looked to see what book it was! But I said, ‘Yeah, it’s great.’ And he goes, ‘So, you like the script?’ And I go, ‘Yeah! Yeah, it’s a good script.’ ‘Whaddaya like about it?’ ‘Well, it’s a good story. It’s a good story.’
“I wanted the birds, though. Because Sonny had birds that he kept up on the roof. He had pigeons, and I wanted to have the pigeons. And I asked Al, ‘How come the pigeons aren’t in the screenplay?’ And he said, ‘Well, because if you have the birds, then your character will have too much sympathy. And nobody wants to have sympathy for Sonny Black, you understand? So you can’t have the birds.’ And I said, ‘Okay, well, then, I guess I won’t have the freakin’ birds, but…’ And he goes, ‘Okay. Okay, okay, okay. Okay!’ And I’m, like, ‘Is that it?’ He goes, ‘That’s it.’ I said, ‘All right.’ So, you know, I was escorted out, I went back to the hotel, and I was pretty convinced that it was not gonna happen. And then they said, ‘Oh, Michael, geez, Al likes you. You’re in. You’re gonna do the film.’
“So I was very happy that I didn’t read. I was very happy that I kept my position, because it’s such an uncomfortable, horrible thing to do. But that’s one I didn’t read for, that I refused to read for. That movie’s also sad, because Bruno Kirby’s in it, and he’s since died. But I got some good buddies, like Jimmy Russo.
“You know, later on, a couple of years later, I was in Vancouver, and I was making a picture called My Boss’s Daughter with Ashton Kutcher, and Al and I were both staying at the Four Seasons. He was staying there while he was making a film called Insomnia. I had three days off, and I wanted to go home for Father’s Day. I wanted to see my son. And I ran into Al’s assistant in the lobby, and I hadn’t known that he was at the Four Seasons, but he goes, ‘Oh, Michael, you know Al’s here.’ And I said, ‘Oh, really?’ He says, ‘Yeah! What are you doing?’ I said, ‘Well, I’ve got about three days before I gotta go back to work, and I don’t know what the hell to do. I can’t afford a plane ticket.’ And he goes, ‘Oh, well, I’ll tell Al.’ And I’m telling you, a half hour later, I was in my room when the phone rang, and it was Al. And he’s, like, ‘Michael! I got a jet!’ And I go, ‘Well, that’s great. Good for you! I’m happy to hear that you have a jet. Did you call to tell me that you have a jet?’ He said, ‘No, do you want a ride?’ I’m, like, ‘A ride?’ He said, ‘Come on and take a ride!’ I said, ‘Yeah, that would be great!’ And he actually let me hitchhike with him to L.A. and back.
“You know, every time I see Donnie Brasco, I appreciate it a little bit more. It was very, very well done, and Al’s performance is really underrated. It’s a damned good movie. It really is.”
Atomic Twister (2002)—“Corrine Maguire”
Middle Of Nowhere (2012)—“Fraine”
Somebody’s Mother (2014)—“Alice”
The Bridge Partner (2015)—“Olivia Korhonen”
AVC: Is there a project that you’ve worked on over the years that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?
Sharon Lawrence: Well… [Long pause.] It’s hard for me to even remember them all! But I have a couple of shorts out right now that I hope find their way into some more audiences, because I think they’re very interesting. The Bridge Partner was just at the Newport Beach Film Festival, and Somebody’s Mother just won an award for best director [at the Hang Onto Your Shorts Film Festival]. I did Ava DuVernay’s film Middle Of Nowhere, and these independent films by women, it’s challenging for them to find marketing dollars. Middle Of Nowhere is on Netflix now, which is great, and I’m so proud to be part of that movie and part of her team. I hope that these shorts find that, because the form is very satisfying to me as an actor. The Bridge Partner is based on Peter Beagle’s short story. Beth Grant and I star in that, and I play this Eastern European woman who meets a very mild-mannered, easily intimidated gal at a bridge game, and I set my sights on her as prey.
Somebody’s Mother is by Mandy Fabian, who writes on Web Therapy, with Lisa Kudrow and Dan Bucatinsky, and Missy Pyle and Christine Lakin and I star. I play this cougar mom who is now living her own life, and it’s a challenge for her adult daughters to see that. And I think that’s something that’s really relatable to a lot of women, both mothers and daughters. It’s not just the women who are finding their third act to be very important to them, to be able to express and explore and not hide, but the daughters who have to come into their own and realize that they now are sort of taking the leadership role rather than having to expect their mothers to always serve their needs. I think it’s something that’s very modern.
AVC: My only regret is that your answer to the question was not Atomic Twister, because that would’ve been awesome.
SL: [Bursts out laughing.] Listen, I’ve got a picture of a huge billboard that they put up on Sunset Boulevard for Atomic Twister. Trust me, it got as much love as it deserved!
AVC: I don’t know if there’s any real story here to be told or not, but you were in the original pilot of Sons Of Anarchy, in the role Ron Perlman ultimately ended up playing.
Scott Glenn: Yeah, I did the pilot, and then they called me up—I remember my agent called me up and said, “Are you sitting down?” I said, “Yeah.” “The network is going to go ahead with the series, but not with you playing that part.” So essentially, “You’re fired,” but, “We liked the series, but we don’t want you for whatever reason.” And I have my own ideas about why that was, but what is it they say? “When one door closes, another one opens”? It was ultimately probably one of the better things that could’ve happened to me.
AVC: Because of how long the series ultimately ran?
SG: Because of how long the series ran, and because, you know, if you’re going to be in a series and it has commercial breaks… People say, “Oh, there’s a difference between cable and network,” and my response to that is, “No, there’s a difference between sponsored and not sponsored.” That’s the thing. Non-sponsored—I mean, I finally had that experience with HBO in a show I did last season and will be doing again this season [The Leftovers], and then with Daredevil. Non-sponsored is a degree of free air that you’re breathing that sponsored doesn’t give you. So to be in a show that’s sort of a mid-level success but not a huge hit means you’re stuck there with the pay that you’re getting because you can’t negotiate more. I mean, if your show is Friends, then you can say, “Hey, it’ll be $300,000 a pop for next year!” But if it’s a mid-level thing that’s sort of just found its audience and is hobbling along, you can’t do any of that.
The guy who wrote Sons Of Anarchy, his name is Kurt Sutter, and I think he’s a really good writer, so this is no reflection on him. But I remember sitting there at the first table reading, and there were people there from FX, and they said, “Listen, everybody: There are no rules here. When you think you’ve gone too far, we want you go even further.” And my instinct at the time—I kept my mouth shut, because I had a job, and I thought, “Cool, I’ll get to ride motorcycle and play this very interesting character.” But I also had kind of the devil in me. [Laughs.] And at that table reading, I wanted to say right to the guy who said that… He was sitting next to a woman, and please excuse my French, because I’m intentionally using these words, but I wanted to say, “Why don’t you just stick it up your big fucking hairy fat ass? And that goes for that cunt sitting next to you, too!” And there would’ve been a dead silence in the room, and I would’ve broken it by saying, “Please don’t tell us to take it as far as we can or to go further when we know that none of us will be able to say any of the things that I just said to you two.” Now, with HBO, Showtime, and Netflix, that’s not true. And the difference is, they don’t take a break every 15 minutes to try and sell you Tylenol.
AVC: This would seem to be the perfect segue into discussing The Leftovers.
SG: Damon Lindelof… I told him this, and he kind of laughed, but I said, “Do you have, like, secret bugs in my fucking bedroom?” I mean, it’s like I open my mouth and the words that he’s written just spill out. It’s so good, and so close to me and the way I see things, and way better language than I could ever use in improvisation. But it’s huge fun to work with Damon, and also the whole cast of that, and Mimi Leder… I was telling Damon the other day—because I’m just getting ready to go down to Texas to do an episode—that doing [Kevin Garvey] Senior and Stick, they’re almost a perfect complement to each other.
Because with The Leftovers, what I’m really trying to do as an actor is take my hands off the reins—I mean, really off the reins—and just let the scene go where it wants to, and not try to force my performance into the way I saw it before we got to the set, which I used to do, and I think most actors—if you really look at what they’re doing—try to do. But with Stick, it’s just the opposite. Being blind and having all these trappings of what this character is… I remember asking someone, “So Stick is, like, in his late 60s to early 70s?” And one fo the people from Marvel said, “No, no, that’s just the description we gave in the screenplay. Stick is almost 100 years old.” And I said, “What?” And they said, “Scott, this is a graphic comic!” [Laughs.] “Ultimately, this is gritty and shot realistically, but it’s Daredevil.” And I love it. And I love doing it. Everyone I worked with, everyone I ran into from Marvel and Netflix, were so nice and generous and ready to support me in whatever way I wanted to make the character work. To have Senior and Stick in my back pocket, it’s perfect. It’s like having the best four-wheel drive off-road vehicle and the best super-fast crotch rocket in the world to play around with whenever I want to.
Bob Gunton: Well, I have to confess… [Laughs.] What happened was that I’d actually been doing a movie for the Paulist Fathers, the order of priests I’d studied with. They have a production arm, and they were producing a movie called Judas And Jesus in Morocco, and they asked me to play Caiaphas. So I was in Morocco, and I get this call from my agent saying, “Somebody just called with this thing called Boat Trip, and it’s a gay captain of a cruise ship,” and they explained that the Swedish Bikini Team drops in. I don’t even remember all of the tags, but this was again a one-day gig, and they were going to shoot all nine of my scenes in one day, and they offered an awful lot of money. And they allowed me to come back home so that I’d go from Morocco to Germany, where they filmed it, and I’d be able to go home via Paris, where I’d get to spend a week. And I said, “You know, I can’t pass that up.” Particularly after spending almost a month in Morocco.
So I did it, and my scenes were actually funny, and I enjoyed the character, but they ended up cutting the scenes that made this character make any sense. And I actually asked to have my name taken off, and they said, “Oh, no. No, no. We paid you too much to take your name off the thing.” But I guess we’ll always have Paris, as I told my wife. And we did. We had a wonderful time. But I started to watch it once, and then I said, “Nah. No, I can’t go there.”
AVC: I just love the fact that you went from a biblical epic to Boat Trip.
BG: [Laughs.] Yes, I guess that was from the sublime—well, if not sublime, then certainly serious—to the weird. And years later I got to play a gay man opposite Elliott Gould under far different circumstances. That was, again, a very low-budget independent movie, but we played old lovers who hang out at this place called the Foxes Den, and the movie’s called Live At The Foxes Den. The movie wasn’t all that polished or anything, but the storyline between he and I was very nice. And I finally got to play an older gay man who wasn’t a cliché but a real person. So I consider that my redemption for playing a gay boat captain in Boat Trip. [Laughs.]
AVC: How did you end up at Second City? Did you just have the idea to audition, or did someone suggest it to you?
John Kapelos: I was in the University Of Ottawa and saw the road company of Second City, and I really fell in love with that. And then the next day, I fell down some stairs and broke my arm and ended up dropping out of university, hitchhiking to the west coast of Canada, and working on an oil rig for about eight months. I sort of had a falling-out with my family—I was rebellious—and I ended up working at a record store, pricing albums. I remember pricing Steve Martin’s Let’s Get Small—like, thousands of them—in this shop in Vancouver, and I had a crummy little apartment. It was a bad time. Fun adventures, but also sort of horrible.
And then when I came back to Toronto in May of 1978 after having sort of a rapprochement with my father and mother—they weren’t too pleased that I did this whole sojourn out West—I had this big meeting with my dad where I said, “I want to be an actor,” and he said, “Okay.” My dad was a lovely guy. I had great parents. But he was a conservative shopkeeper, and he said, “Look, I don’t know how to help you as an actor, but if you want to be an actor, give it a go for a year. Get a job. And if you don’t get a job, then we’re going to reevaluate and you’re going to go back to school.” And I thought that was a fair thing.
The next night, I was in Toronto, I’d gotten this crummy apartment, and I went to Second City, because I’d remembered the touring company, and the improvisations were free. Well, that night, John Candy, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, Gene Levy, a guy named Peter Torokvei, and Steve Kampmann, they did the improvs. And I think I went to the improvs for the next three months. Every night. And not only that, but I started doing workshops the following week, then I became friends with the actors backstage, after the show, at the bar. I had a revelation: “I want to do Second City.” This happened very rapidly. They were shooting SCTV, and I volunteered to become an extra, because they took kids from the workshop, so you can see me in the early SCTVs. I steal water from John Candy, dressed as an Arab, in the Bob Hope Desert Classic, and all this stuff. I’m very young, but I’m in there. So that’s where I met the producer Bernie Sahlins.
My mom was an American, so when I was pricing records in Vancouver, I remember calling her up, saying, “Mom, can you help me get my U.S. citizenship?” So with that in mind, I met Bernie Sahlins and said, “I’d like to audition for Second City Chicago.” He said, “Are you ready, kid?” I said, “Yeah, I’m ready. I’m ready!” So he said, “I’ll give you a call.” So I gave him my phone number, and he never called! So I called my parents a couple of weeks later and said, “I need to take a Greyhound bus to Chicago, because I’ve got a job offer at Second City.” Which was entirely an untruth. [Laughs.] So my dad—God rest his soul, I love him—gave me his credit card, and I took a Greyhound bus to Chicago and surprised the hell out of the Second City people, including Bernie.
But they said, “Okay, you can audition,” and the story’s much longer than this, but basically I auditioned with this wonderful guy named Mike Hagerty—we’re friends to this day—and they offered me a job. So I called my mother up, and I said, “Hey, Mom, I got the job!” And she said, “I thought they already offered it to you.” And I said, “Uh, yeah, but I had to sort of secure it…?” And she said, “Well, there’s an envelope here from the U.S. Consulate.” I said, “Open it!” It was my passport. Goodbye, Canada. Hello, world! And Linda Ronstadt’s Living In The U.S.A. was No. 1 the day I moved to the U.S.! [Laughs.] I never looked back. You know, John Candy was a huge influence on me and a loving, wonderful teacher. A great dude. I miss him terribly.
AVC: You mentioned him earlier, but how influential was Del Close for you?
JK: Del Close by that time was more myth than man. And he was great, but he had a difficult time at Second City. He and I had got along personally, and I learned a lot from him, but I’ve gotta say that he, uh… [Long pause.] You know, I can’t exaggerate: There were things about him at that time where people were having some difficulty about him. And it was perhaps mostly because of his proclivities. And we’ll leave it at that.
But Bernie Sahlins, the producer of Second City, was a big influence on me. And Fred Kaz. And Joyce Sloane, another producer of Second City, was a huge protector and a different sort of influence, helping with my career and career guidance. And Del was in there. But I have to say that Bernie was a big influence. And Fred was as well, because I was and am very musical. In fact, we’re mixing “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” right now. I covered it for my new album. So Fred’s still in my life on a daily basis. They all are.
I remember Del saying to me backstage one day during the summer of the big Dallas cliffhanger, “I don’t know who shot J.R., but I know who shot up J.R.” And I was, like, “Oh, great, Del, thanks.” Because he and Larry Hagman used to do heroin when they did The Nervous Set off-Broadway in 1959. I was, like, “Oh, really? I want to hear this?” [Laughs.] The first day of workshops… I’m, like, 21, and they made us do workshops with Del. He goes to the edge of the stage, he takes off his clothes, and he’s there with this brown underwear on that used to be white, and his body is like a moon landscape with pock marks from where he shot heroin. And he teetered at the edge of the stage, and he said, “This… is my track suit.” And like Jesus Christ at the end, he spreads his arms out, and then he does a dead drop off the stage. And we all scramble to catch him, which we did. We’re all holding him by pieces of skin and hair, and as he’s, like, an eighth of an inch from smashing his head on a table, we caught him. And he looks around, with everything hanging out, and says, “Now… I can trust you.” Yeah, okay, Del. [Narrating.] “Dear Mom and Dad, today I met a member of the counterculture…”
AVC: You know, to date, I have never been let down by asking anyone about Del Close.
JK: [Laughs.] Oh, I’ve got more and more stories about Del, believe me. He was, uh, certainly somebody you could react to.
Bradley Whitford: That was when I was playing yuppie scum. [Laughs.] That was my wheelhouse: yuppie scum. Adventures In Babysitting—I remember I had a huge crush on Lisa Shue, and… that was Chris Columbus’ first movie, right? I think he’d sold some scripts, but it was the first time he’d directed. He’s one of the sweetest guys on the planet, so that was a really fun experience. But, yeah, I kind of got into this jerk mode, and right around that time I showed incredible range by doing Revenge Of The Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise, where I showed I could not only play an asshole at home but also one who was on vacation, which… was really, I’m sure, moving for people to see.
AVC: It’s no wonder you’ve made it as far as you have in your career.
BW: Actually, I’ll tell you something funny. I was in New York after Adventures In Babysitting—I’d been playing all these jerks—and it was one of the first times anybody recognized me. A homeless guy said, “Hey, you’re that guy! You’re in those movies, right?” And I’m like Jeff Daniels in Purple Rose Of Cairo. “Oh, yeah! Yeah, I am!” And the guy goes, “Yeah, why do you always play assholes?” [Laughs.] I think I called my agent and said something like, “Is that a problem? Should I worry about playing an asshole all the time? Could that damage my career?” And my agent said, “You don’t have a career to damage.” Which hurt at the time, but that’s the kind of honesty you need.
But I’ll tell you something weird: were it not for playing one of those jerks, I would not have met Aaron Sorkin. If I had not done Revenge Of The Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise —and, please, if you’re gonna reference it, use the whole title—I never would’ve met Tim Busfield, who then went into A Few Good Men and, when they were replacing someone, said to Aaron, “You should have this guy read for you.” So if I hadn’t done Revenge Of The Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise, I never would’ve gotten to do The West Wing.
Tales From The Crypt (1989)—“Niles Talbot”
Die Hard 2 (1990)—“Col. Stuart”
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)—“Heywood”
AVC: How did you find your way into The Shawshank Redemption?
William Sadler: I had just done the first episode of the series Tales From The Crypt, and Frank Darabont was one of the writers. He approached me on the set when I was visiting one day, and he came over and said, “I’m going to do this movie, it’s called Rita Hayworth And The Shawshank Redemption, and I would like you to be in it.” He said it just like that. A couple of days later, he mailed me a copy of the Stephen King anthology, I think it’s called Different Seasons, and I read the novella, and I have to say, when Frank first said that he was writing the screenplay and wanted me to be in it, when you’re in Los Angeles, there’s a part of you that says, “Yeah, right.” [Laughs.] Because everybody you meet is writing a movie, and they want you to be in it. Every cab driver is writing a movie! But thank God, it turned out that Frank was completely serious, and something like a year and a half or two years later there we were shooting it, and it was one of the most fun shoots I’ve ever been involved with.
AVC: We actually just interviewed Bob Gunton for this feature last month.
WS: Oh, yeah! Well, he must feel good about that film. I’m sure he must enjoy the memories of doing that.
AVC: Oh, absolutely. He said, “I’m sure that, unless the gods come down from heaven with another marvelous movie, that will be the movie that I will probably be remembered for and that I am most proud of.”
WS: I would imagine so. I mean, they just don’t come around, movies like that. Frank even talks about that. Whenever we get together, we just sort of shake our heads and say, “Can you believe it’s still going as strong as it is?” He feels like we really caught lightning in a bottle, and I think to some degree that’s true. It was a strong script, but I don’t think any of us had any idea that it was going to take on this life of its own and become such a beloved film.
AVC: When it first came out, were you—as it seems everyone else was—frustrated that audiences didn’t seem to pick up on it?
WS: Oh, yeah! I don’t know if you remember, but it opened in the movie theaters, and it closed, like, a week later or two weeks later. It had no run at all. Nobody knew what a Shawshank was. No one could pronounce it. It’s a terrible name. I remember Frank showing me a list of 10 different names they were going to call it, because everyone knew that name was just dreadful. And people tell each other, “I saw this movie last night. It was great! It was called… Shrimptank something?” [Laughs.] You know, it’s really hard to get the word of mouth going if no one can pronounce or remember the name.
AVC: That’s almost exactly what Morgan Freeman said.
WS: I think that’s true! I think the name hurt almost more than anything else. Morgan and Tim Robbins were not household names at the time. I mean, they were strong film actors, but there wasn’t a name attached like Tom Cruise that you could hang the movie on. They went for a strong ensemble, and that’s what they got, and I really do think that’s part of the magic and the strength of that film: It felt like you could aim the camera at any face in that room and see the whole story played out in those eyes. It was a true ensemble.
Die Hard 2 was also, as a matter of fact, a result of that very first episode of Tales From The Crypt. Die Hard 2 was produced by Joel Silver, who was also one of the producers on the Tales From The Crypt series, so a great portion of my career flowed from one particular moment when I came in to audition for that episode. But I actually came in to audition for the cop at the end who arrests Talbot and says, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say, blah blah blah…” And at the end of the audition, I asked, (casting director) Karen Rea, “What’s up with the role of Talbot, the lead?” And she said, “Oh, they want a star. They need a star for that. They’re gonna get [John] Malkovich or Chris Walken or somebody. They need a name for that.”
So I left, and I got halfway across the parking lot, and she stuck her head out the window of the Silver building, and she said, “Bill! Bill! Come back!” She handed me the sides and said, “Come back on Monday, black out your teeth and grease your hair, and I’ll put you on tape and show it to them. What have we got to lose?” So I did. I came back on Monday and did the audition, and Walter Hill loved it. I worked with him again subsequently. In fact, the four producers on the show were Joel Silver, Dick Donner, Bob Zemeckis, and Walter Hill, and I worked with all of them subsequently. So it was just this remarkable little moment in my career where I could’ve so easily just left. If I hadn’t asked, “What’s up with the role of Talbot?” I would’ve had a different career.
AVC: In regard to Die Hard 2, you certainly make a big impression with your introduction, doing naked tai chi.
WS: Why, thank you. [Laughs.]
AVC: Was it in the script that you’d be fully unclothed for that reveal?
WS: Uh, no. I didn’t learn that until I got there for the costume fitting.
AVC: Or lack thereof?
WS: You’re absolutely right! [Laughs.] I said, “What am I wearing in that scene?” We tried on everything else, and then Renny [Harlin] said, “Actually, I was thinking you would be nude.” And I said, “Well, if you push that scene off until the end of the movie and get me in the gym, I’ll see what I can do.”
AVC: If IMDB can be trusted, it looks like your first on-camera role—excluding commercials—was on an episode of Boston Public.
Eric Ladin: [Laughs.] That’s it! Right there! Man, I was so excited for that day. They came to USC. I was a student, and I had gotten my Screen Actors Guild card because I had started to do commercials at the time. But they did a cattle call, an open casting call, at USC because they needed high schools kids, so they were starting to look at colleges in the area to try and get kids. So I went and I read, and then I got a callback, which meant that I had to drive to Manhattan Beach to David E. Kelley Studios and read for producers, which at the time was—I mean, I had two lines, and I must’ve said them five trillion times on my way over there. But I got there and I said them and I left, and it was just so invigorating… and then I got the job!
I remember calling my mom and my dad and telling them, and I had made it! Really, truly, I had made it! This was it! And I did the job, I had a blast, and then fast-forward to a few months later, and… it was cut! [Laughs.] The lines were just not even there. So it was a sad process, but it was a great process, because in one job it taught me how exciting it could be and also how heartbreaking it can be in this industry. But I was assured by a director who I happened to be family friends with and who knew the showrunner and had gotten the tape so I at least had it for my reel, that it was for time and not for performance. But whatever the case, it was not on the air. So it was a quick lesson for me to not get too excited about something until you actually see it.
AVC: What’s funny is that, in looking through the cast of that particular episode, it’s also the one episode of Boston Public that Brent Sexton did.
EL: You’re kidding! Wow, I didn’t know that. That’s fantastic! You know, Brent Sexton and I also—before The Killing—worked together on the pilot for a NBC series called Surface, in which myself and he and an actor named Jay Ferguson—I played Jay Ferguson’s brother, and he played Jay Ferguson’s best friend, and we all went fishing together in the pilot, and I had an unfortunate event take place: I was eaten by a sea monster. [Laughs.] And that kicked off that crazy intense series about a sea monster, much like the Loch Ness monster, except in Louisiana. So, yeah, I worked with Brett Sexton there, too. Wow, that’s funny, though: I had no idea that he was involved in that episode of Boston Public.
AVC: IMDB lists you as being in four episodes of Surface, but you’re technically uncredited in three of them, which make sense if you got eaten in the pilot. Is it listed like that because they continued to show the clip of you being eaten in the “previously on Surface” montage?
EL: No, you know, what happened is… [Starts to laugh.] It’s really funny, because when you start out in Hollywood, there’s kind of an ongoing joke among old actors when they hear young actors say, “I got this job, and it’s amazing, and I die at the end, but the producers were really nice, and they said I might come back in flashbacks!” When you’re a young actor, you get so excited about the idea of coming back in flashbacks, which—as we all know—never happens. Except in this instance, when it did!
Jay’s character had flashbacks of losing his brother to a sea monster for the next several episodes. So I did go back and stand in front of a green screen and say random things to my brother, which I think they ran in subsequent episodes as flashbacks. Why I’m uncredited, I don’t know. I’ll have to send my attorney after IMDB and make sure I get the due credit that I deserve. [Laughs.]
AVC: It’s weird, because the credit is on IMDB. It’s just that next to the credit it says “uncredited.” So you may not be credited on the episode, but someone knew you were in it, so they listed you on IMDB anyway.
EL: That’s really funny. All right, I guess IMDB’s safe from my attorney this time! [Laughs.]
AVC: Well, normally this is where I’d ask you how you found your way into acting as a profession in the first place, but given your parentage, it seems like you came by it honestly.
Raphael Sbarge: Yeah, Mom’s a costume designer in the theater, my dad’s a playwright, they both met at Yale as students, and then my dad went on to be a documentary filmmaker and wrote a book on architecture; my mother wrote a book on the history of costume. She was also a professor at Yale, Tulane, and NYU, and she’s done lots and lots of shows on Broadway, etc. So I really sort of grew up backstage, very much “raised in a trunk,” as they say, and I have some wonderful childhood memories of being with the actors backstage and just hanging out. They’d kind of take me under their wing and hang out with me, and it sort of felt like running away with the circus.
There was something magical about hanging out backstage, looking from the wings into the lights. Seeing all that, it looked like magic to me. My mother worked very hard in the theater, which was difficult and took a lot of patience. Being a costume designer for the theater is not a high-paying gig. [Laughs.] But she was—miraculously—able to support herself just as a costume designer for years, and then as a teacher. But just because we were living in the Lower East Side in a commune in the ’60s, it turned out that we were geographically close to where they were then shooting Sesame Street, so I was on Sesame Street when I was, like, 4-and-a-half.
AVC: Wow. I didn’t realize that.
RS: [Laughs.] Yeah! I did a bunch of episodes of Sesame Street, which is wacky to think about now. At the time… I mean, who knew it was going to be where it is now? But I have vivid memories of meeting Oscar and Big Bird, and Mr. Hooper sat me on a donkey and we talked about the differences between the donkey and a horse. Anyway, they offered me a contract, apparently, and my mother didn’t want to be a stage mother, so she decided to kind of say, “Look, if he’s going to do this, let him do it himself, because it’s too hard.” And she had a burgeoning career of her own at that point, so she didn’t want to be sitting backstage, so she turned it down. But I still ended up around a lot of theater, and when she was working at Yale, if they happened to need kids, I’d be in a show, so there were things like that.
And then when we moved from Connecticut back to New York City, at that point, I was 13, and I decided I wanted to be an actor, so I called an actress friend and said, “What do I do?” And she said, “Well, here’s my agent’s phone number. Give him a call!” So I said, “Okay!” And I bicycled over to the East Side. I did this all on my own, because in New York you can do it on your own. There are no child labor laws, so you literally can do it on your own! [Laughs.] I just had to bring the contract home to be signed by my parents. But with my bus pass in hand… Obviously, I was a very precocious kid, and I just kind of went out and did it. And I got my Screen Actors Guild card almost immediately, and then I got my Equity card at 14 or 15. I was doing a play at the Public [Theater], and just started training and studying in New York City.
I’ve had so many friends who’ve been in the business and gone through so many iterations, but—astonishingly—I’ve somehow been able to carve out a career where I’ve just been able to keep working, I’ve gone through different physical changes and still been able to keep working. It’s just such a difficult business, and I’m painfully aware of that. So, yeah, there’s not a day that I’m not grateful for the fact that I’ve been able to keep working.
AVC: You mentioned the Public Theater a minute ago. I’ve read that your first stage role was actually in Joe Papp’s Shakespeare In The Park production of Henry IV, Part 1.
RS: It was! And then I did another play at the Public, and I did a production of Hamlet that Joe Papp actually directed where I played multiple parts. It was pretty exciting to work with him.
AVC: The cast list for Henry IV, Part 1 is pretty crazy: John Goodman, Val Kilmer…
RS: Yeah! And in Hamlet, Jimmy Smits was a spear carrier! [Laughs.] So those theater experiences were obviously pivotal in my trying to make some sense of what kind of actor I wanted to be, and Joe was very kind to me and gave me some tremendous opportunities. I went on Broadway for the first time when I was 16, with Faye Dunaway [in The Curse Of An Aching Heart] and had a lot of wonderful success in New York doing lots of different plays. And to that end, New York is still very much home. In fact, I have a place there. It’s the place where I got my start, and artistically and spiritually New York very much feels like home.